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How To Get Tickets To The Toronto Film Festival


I’ve mentioned it a few times already but I’m off to the Toronto Film Festival in September.  It’s my first trip to a major international film festival and it’s been a learning exercise in terms of how to plan and get tickets.


My experiences to date have been limited to the Brisbane International Film Festival.  The program comes out a few weeks before, you pick what films you want to see and then you buy the tickets.  It’s that simple.  A few films sell out but if you get in early, it’s not a problem.


As you can imagine, Toronto is very different.


Firstly, there are three different types of screenings – galas, special presentations and regular screenings.


Galas are held at Roy Thomson Hall, a huge concert hall that seats 2,600 people.  You can look at its amazing interior by clicking here.  The list of Gala screenings in 2010 included Black Swan, The King’s Speech, Potiche, Sarah’s Key, The Town and Barney’s Version.  For many of these films, it is their world premiere and you can expect the filmmakers / stars to be in attendance.


Special presentations are held at the Elgin Theatre’s VISA Screening Room.  It seats 1,500 people and is another big venue.  You can view a photo of this beautiful theatre by clicking here.  Special presentations last year included 127 Hours, Another Year, Biutiful, Blue Valentine, Buried, Conviction, Easy A, Hereafter, In A Better World, Made In Dagenham, Never Let Me Go, Rabbit Hole and The Trip.


The regular screenings are held at a variety of other theatres.  The great news is that they are all centrally located.  I’ve booked my accommodation at the Hilton Toronto and I believe I’m within 1 km of all the major theatres.  Some of them can hold up to 1,000 people.


So how do you get tickets?  Of the world’s leading festivals, Toronto is one of the most accessible to the public but the problem is that as a result, demand for tickets is high.


There are two types of ticket packages – TIFF Choice and My Choice.


TIFF Choice packages are where you don’t get to decide what you want to see.  Instead, the selection is made by the Festival programmers.  It’s not completely random however.  One of the more popular packages (as it’s already sold out) is the Opening Weekend at the VISA Screening Room.  This costs $87 and gets you a ticket to the VISA Screening Room film at 6pm on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  This is likely to be a special presentation but you can’t be 100% sure.


The problem with these packages is that you’re effectively taking a chance.  You may get a film that you don’t want to see.  That’s just how it goes.  It’s not until the program comes out in late August that you’ll know the names of the movies.


Other TIFF Choice packages include (1) the 5-film Sampler Pack which gets you 5 random films for $82, (2) the Midnight Madness which gets you 10 midnight screenings for $156, (3) the Double-Date Gala which gets you 2 tickets to 2 different galas for $299.


The reason you want to buy TIFF Choice packages is because it could be your only chance to get to a gala screening or a special presentation.  They aren’t available with other packages (as you’ll see below).


For this reason, the packages I’ve snapped up are the two Friday to Friday at the VISA Screening Room packages.  This gives me a ticket to the 6pm and 9pm screenings for every night of the Festival at the VISA Screening Room.  The cost of the combined packages is $464 but it should ensure I get to all the special presentations (and hopefully I’ll get to see a few filmmakers and actors).


My Choice packages allow you to select the films you want to see.  You can buy them in packs of 10, 30 and 50.  The 10 ticket pack costs $160 and you can use it to get up to 4 tickets per film (ideal if you’re going with friends).


It may sound simple but it’s anything but.  For starters, you may not necessarily get the films you want.  In late August, the program is released and you must pick up your Advance Order Book.  You then go through each day of the Festival, mark the films you want and note the number of the tickets you require.  You then must return the Book within a week to the Festival Office.  A great look at how this works can be found of the TIFF Talk website by clicking here.


Once the deadline is past, all the Advance Order Books are placed in boxes.  A lottery is then held to determine which box is opened first.  If the number 13 is drawn, the 13th box is opened followed by the 14th, 15th, etc and the back around until the 12th box is reached.


The reason it’s done this way is because some films will sell out.  You may have picked it in your Book but if your box is one of the last opened, you may still miss out of tickets.  That’s why you’re also asked to nominate a “second choice” film in case you don’t get your first selection.  Apparently, the hardest to get ticket in 2010 was Black Swan.


You may be saying “hang on, wasn’t Black Swan a gala screening?”  The answer is yes but a film often screens several times at the Festival.  The premiere of Black Swan with director Darren Aronofsky and star Natalie Portman was a gala screening but if you were prepared to wait a few days, you could see it as a regular screening (without the stars) during the day.


It gets a little more confusing because your TIFF Membership can come into play.  If you pay $300 a year and become a Contributor member, it means your Advance Order Book goes to the front of the queue (and bypasses the lottery).  This seems to be the best way of securing the tickets you want to the films you want (excluding galas and special presentations).  I’ve decided to pay this additional cost and order 4 of the 10 ticket packs (for me and my friends to use) to help us get tickets to the films we want to see during the day.  We probably won’t need them at night since we’ll be at the VISA Screening Room.


There’s also an additional cost because I live in Australia and can’t pick up and return the Advance Order Book in person.  If you live closer to Toronto, you can pay $150 for a courier service which will deliver you the Book and allow you to return it within a week.  However, that’s not going to possible from Australia.  I’m therefore hoping to be selected to use the online version of the Book which is being trialled this year.  The problem is that I still have to pay the $150 but it’s the only choice I have.


It’s worth noting at this point that single tickets to films aren’t available until after all of the above packages are dished out.  Apparently they do hold back a few tickets for the major films but I don’t know how easy these would be to get your hands on.  There are also “Rush Line” tickets where you can line up (possibly for hours) and hope to get in to a movie because ticket holders don’t show up.  Can be risky.  You’ll shouldn’t have trouble getting tickets to the smaller films (TIFF says that only 30% of films sell out each year) but I still think your best bet is to buy packages and fill our your Advance Order Book.


Believe it or not, there is a TIFF Membership category that does allow you to buy individual tickets before everyone else (even the Advance Order Book folk).  You can pay $1,200 to join the Patron’s Circle and for that, you can pick the films (any you like) for $19 for regular films and $38 for special presentations.  Doesn’t seem worth it if you ask me but it’s there as an option.


The highest Membership category costs $10,000 and this gets you such things as (1) a personal concierge service for ticket purchases, (2) an invitation for 2 to a directors cocktail reception and dinner, (3) invitations to private screenings and dinner events with special guests, (4) access to press screenings, and (5) tickets to the Opening Night screening, cocktail reception and after party.  I’ve got some money to spend but not quite that much sadly.


Does that all make sense?  I haven’t even started about media accreditation but we’ll save that for another time.  My application has been submitted and hopefully I’m considered worthy enough by the wonderful Festival organisers!